Catch Me If You Can Review

Paul Bint, known in the tabloid press as King Con, once claimed to be a barrister in the Jill Dando murder trial in order to cheat a doctor in a casualty ward at University College Hospital in London. During the time in which she treated a number of minor injuries that he had sustained, Bint convinced her that he was actually Orlando Pownall QC, who had acted as the prosecution during Barry George's trial, and that he lived in an exclusive area in Hampstead. Taking pity on him, the doctor who treated Bint allowed him to stay at her house, whereupon he stole £60 and her credit cards. Even in his latest trial, there were concerns that he would dupe the jury and a second psychiatric report has been ordered in case he managed to fool the doctor assigned to deliver the first. Bint is currently on trial at a court in London for his crimes.

This is only the latest example in Bint's life of crime can be added to the tally to date, which has included the stealing of an Aston Martin, a Ferrari, a Mercedes and a Porsche after posing as either the Duke of Arundel or Piers Oppenheimer. During the eighties, Bint posed as a doctor in the north of England and arranged X-rays, put stitches in head wounds, groped female patients and told the parents of a 17-year-old girl that their daughter would live although six hours later she died.

It is this last detail that may have prevented Spielberg adapting Bint's life when he came to making a breezy comedy about a confidence trickster, which is a shame because the director seems to lack a number of emotional moments in his adaptation of Frank Abagnale's featherlight autobiography and has instead produced a souffle of a film - something that is almost without substance.



Catch Me If You Can stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Frank Abagnale Jr, who opens the film watching his beloved father, played with a fair degree of cynicism by Christopher Walken that contrasts with DiCaprio's idealism, struggle as both his business and his marriage collapses. As the IRS pursues his father, his mother (Nathalie Baye in a rare English-language role) entertains gentlemen visitors in the afternoons and Frank escapes from home to make good, as his father never had the chance to, with imagination, invention and daring confidence tricks.

Initially, this takes the form of pretending to be a substitute teacher at his new school but on finding how the public respect airline pilots, he begins forging cheques, steals a uniform from Pan-Am and begins taking free flights across the US on any airline that will carry him. This begins a habit of adopting guises to avoid the attentions of the FBI, including stints as a doctor, lawyer and federal agent, forging enough cheques to amass a fortune of over $2m. Eventually, though, the FBI's Department of Cheque Fraud starts to take an interest in Abagnale's activities and Special Agent Hanratty (Hanks) starts to follow Abagnale's trail of cheques across the US in the hope of tracking him down...



Harrison Ford has a rule - for every two serious roles, do a comedy. Ford clearly would like to think that this gives him range, possibly even allows him to open up a new demographic. Hence, Air Force One and The Devil's Own get followed by tat like Six Days Seven Nights. As ill-advised as listening to Ford must seem, particularly with that kind of recent track record, Steven Spielberg must be doing just that, possibly during pre-production talks for Indy 4. As a result, after both A.I. and Minority Report, this is gutless fluff that despite being described elsewhere as a light comedy, to do so here would be rather too flattering. Truth be told, Catch Me If You Can is one of the flimsiest films of recent years.

Spielberg makes the mistake of fruitlessly dragging out the same cliches as he has persisted in doing elsewhere, attempting both to add depth to the central characters as well as to justify Frank Abagnale's actions. Broken home? Check! Resourceful kid who knows more than his elders? Hmmm...yeah, Abagnale Jr is a smart cookie! Does he have elder mentors/father figures? Wha...you kidding? Only Abagnale Sr know the truths that lie behind the fantasies spun by his only son! Last question - is Abagnale Jr punished? Oh, come on, this is Spielberg and only lawyers, politicians and Nazis are considered worthy of more than a telling-off so young Frank walks out of prison before he's had to encounter the fear felt by hearing the splash of dropped soap.

Remember when the phrase, "Presented by Steven Spielberg" actually meant that you might not be seeing a dud? I'm afraid, Band Of Brothers and the Medal Of Honor (sic) series of videogames apart, you have to go all the way back to Gremlins to see that phrase as a mark of quality. Unfortunately, from a clutch of quite wonderful films at the start of his career, it is likely that if Spielberg continues the trend set by his recent run of films, which includes Catch Me If You Can, then the phrase, "Directed by Steven Spielberg" will say as little in terms of guaranteeing quality as when he is simply presenting.



Aside from questioning Spielberg's abilities and whether or not he matters any more, the difficulty in presenting a film about a con artist is that it leaves itself open to being examined as to how accurately it presents the truth about its subject. Whilst Catch Me If You Can would appear to be entirely truthful in its portrayal of a sixteen-year old who ran away from home to become a successful trickster, after that, however, things begin to get complex. For example, in the film, Abagnale's first scam is in posing as a substitute teacher in his French class - Abagnale admits that this never happened. Then again, nor did the annual Christmas telephone calls to taunt Hanratty and, in case you were wondering, Carl Hanratty never existed - he was an amalgam of a team of FBI Special Agents who tracked Abagnale over several years. Finally, it seems to be unlikely that Abagnale's parents were even divorced, writing in his book that, "I could say I was the product of a broken home but I'd only be bum-rapping my parents" continuing to say that his motive was only ever, "...girls, girls, girls and...money."

Without being cynical, Abagnale's biggest con was carried out in conjunction with Spielberg in convincing millions that what they were watching was the truth. When an arch-hoaxer paired up with a self-styled, wide-eyed innocent, the truth was only one more victim to add to all those conned by Abagnale during the sixties.




Picture

Catch Me If You Can has been anamorphically transferred in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and whilst the transfer is good, the original film demonstrates the same dull and lifeless cinematography that Spielberg has been persisting with for the majority of his career.

Ironically, Band Of Brothers, Spielberg's television production from 2001, for which he did not direct an episode, looks more like a cinema production than Catch Me If You Can, as it does when compared to most of Spielberg's films over the last twenty years, with the possible exception of Schindler's List and Saving Private Ryan. Beginning with his involvement in Amazing Stories, Spielberg has moved away from the kind of grand cinematic gestures witnessed in his earlier films, particularly in Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, to a style of filming that is lacking in style and which is best seen in nonsense like Always - a film that has all the merits of a Hallmark-channel production for television. Catch Me If You Can is really no different and if this an indication of what is to come, Indy 4 may be the biggest cinematic disappointment since Star Wars fans slumped out of multiplexes in the summer of 1999.




Sound

The film has been presented with both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS Surround soundtracks but there is little difference between the two. If anything, the DTS soundtrack is just that little bit more immediate but neither makes extensive use of the rear speakers, preferring to keep this dialogue-heavy film front and centred. Otherwise, the mix isn't bad if a little dull at times but the score by John Williams is a notable highlight.




Extras

The rental release of this DVD, which is all we have had to review, comprises the first disc out of the two disc retail set and contains no extras given Spielberg's reticence to record director's commentaries. Details on the extras included on Disc 2 of the full release can be found in this news story, complete with running times.




Overall

In thinking this through, the best summary one can make as regards Catch Me If You Can is that it may as well be a Joe Johnston film. In case you're asking yourself, "Who?", Johnston is one of the clones Spielberg spliced off his DNA shortly after the test trials that resulted in Robert Zemeckis and Chris Columbus were seen to be fruitful. Johnston directed Jurassic Park III with all the ability of a shop dummy and on the evidence shown here, Johnston's lack of talent is feeding back from protege to mentor.

This is simply an awful film with absolutely nothing that connects to the viewer. The overriding impression is that neither Abagnale nor Spielberg actually really care about Abagnale's life during the sixties. Of course, this may be as a result of Abagnale looking back at his younger self as fiction, which it is, of a sort, given that he was never a pilot, lawyer or doctor. In Spielberg's case, this is unforgivable, for if he cares not for the characters in his film, why should the audience. Spielberg never gets to the heart of this story, merely content to drop in one cliche after another in the hope that it all hangs together. That it doesn't implies that he's not particularly bothered either - not recommended in the slightest.

Film
2 out of 10
Video
5 out of 10
Audio
6 out of 10
Extras
0 out of 10
Overall

3

out of 10

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